The annual conference of the European Network for Housing Research (ENHR) took place in Tirana from 4 to 6 September. The intense three-day programme included plenary sessions, workshops and study visits, focusing around the thought provoking theme of 'Affordable housing for all! Redefining the roles of public and private sector'.
Housing Europe President, Cédric Van Styvendael addressed the plenary session 'Housing as a Human Right Vs. Housing as a Commodity - Redefining the Roles of Public & Private Sectors' and reflected on how to bridge the gap in access to affordable housing. He highlighted the role of housing providers members of Housing Europe and the challenges and opportunities ahead, including those at EU level. In particular, he reflected on the current 'urban housing crisis' that many of our cities and metropolitan areas are facing, and reminded that housing is an investment for the future towards liveable & resilient cities. He also highlighted the role our network can play in sharing expertise with countries with housing systems ‘in transition’, notably through recently launched Housing Europe ad-hoc working group.
Alice Pittini, Research Coordinator at Housing Europe, spoke at the plenary session on 'The Right to Housing' together with Prof. Nasarre-Aznar, highlighting that recognition of a right to housing in both international and national legislation is key – nevertheless for this right to become a reality on the ground concrete measures have to be put in place and supported.
The capital Tirana offered an inspiring location for the debate, as the city is often identified as one of the most vital housing and urban laboratories of Western Balkans and former “Eastern-Europe”. Today, Tirana faces a contradiction that needs to be addressed carefully: a significant overproduction of unaffordable housing stock, vs. growing needs of homeless and people in need for affordable housing. Housing Europe delegation took part to a visit organised to a social housing project in the Shkoza neighbourhood, a former industrial site which was in large part transformed into a residential area by people that have squatted the ex-industrial buildings.
Furthermore, we were received at the office of the Mayor of the Great City of Tirana where we learnt about some of the difficulties faced by the local administration (just to give an example, experts estimate that today about 80% of all housing that’s been built since the ‘90s is to some extent ‘informal’) but also the recent initiatives by the very active local administration such as to name a few the introduction of rent allowances, pilot social housing projects, ongoing evaluation of existing public assets to be used as affordable housing.
The conference also provided opportunities for an informal exchange with researchers and attendees, an occasion to learn about new ideas and many interesting ongoing projects. What emerged clearly is the commitment of the academic community to work together with housing providers, policy makers and other actors on the ground to make research more interactive and practice-oriented so as to achieve real innovation.
As Lelani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, highlighted during the opening session 'We desperately need to reclaim the public nature of housing and housing as a social good'. We couldn't agree more...